Apple's long-time industrial designer, Jonathan Ive, just significantly expanded his power at the company. Here's why.
Another kind of Apple genius
If anyone on Apple’s current executive bench deserves credit for the company’s long line of successful products, it’s Jonathan, or “Jony,” Ive. Since joining Apple in 1992, Ive’s unmistakably clean, minimalist designs have been the stuff customers lust after and competitors emulate, from those first pastel-colored all-in-one iMacs to more recently, the 7.9-inch-sized iPad minis.
In an expanded role announced earlier this week, Ive, 45, will steer the design of Apple’s human interfaces. “His incredible design aesthetic has been the driving force behind the look and feel of Apple’s products for more than a decade,” the company explained in a statement. Here are 21 reminders why his work remains untouchable.
Apple’s subwoofer, introduced in 1999, was a testament to literal, total transparency. Each component was visible. The inspiration? A wind instrument, so sound could flow freely.
These fruity-colored desktops innovated on several fronts. Translucent plastics required new manufacturing processes, a collaboration that involved working with a confectionary manufacturer. To make the computer appear more accessible, Apple also included a handle for easy toting.
Credit the iPod for dragging the music industry kicking and screaming into the digital age during the early 2000s. Its runaway success was in large part due to the simplicity of the design itself, which lacked a dedicated off button.
Apple Maps may not be the navigational app users hoped for, but critics almost universally hailed the latest iPhone’s industrial design. It may sport a larger 4-inch screen, but the device itself is actually 20% lighter and 18% thinner.
Apple Mighty Mouse
For Ive’s designs, less has always been more, even when it came to computer mice. The Mighty Mouse was yet another example of that. Instead of physical buttons, it had four sensor areas users “pressed” and a small trackball.
Call it hyperbole if you want, but the modern day smartphone owes a lot to the first iPhone, an irresistible slab of corning glass machined onto aluminum and plastic. The first iPhone was one among many designs batted around by Ive and his team.
Power Mac G4 Cube
Introduced in 2001, this 7-inch by 7-inch by 7-inch acrylic glass ode to geometric perfection sold poorly thanks largely to a high price tag. But to this day, the Cube remains one of the most distinct computer designs around with an emphasis on the vertical, with the CD ejecting upright.
Even the conventional desktop tower benefited from Ive’s touch. With the Power Mac-turned-Mac Pro, users who needed more horsepower were in luck. The large, perforated aluminum tower may not be as eye-popping as other Macs, but allows for expansion of parts and quiet operation.
At a featherweight 22 grams, the first all-white, plastic iPod Shuffle traded a display for lightness. Instead, users could select and transfer songs from their desktops or play randomized songs from their catalog. At $99, the Shuffle was considered by some to be a bargain.
Like the first iMac, the clamshell-shaped iBook G3 was aimed at the mainstream consumer. It too sported a carrying handle and was eventually available in five playful colors.
Apple’s iconic earbuds haven’t been updated in years. This year’s redesign may be the most radical, with an all-new “one-size-fits-all” design intended to better contour to the users’ ear and an air chamber enabling much-improved bass response.
Though Steve Jobs once declared the 7-inch-sized tablet dead on arrival, the release of the iPad mini proves otherwise. For $329, users get a — wait for it — 7-inch non-Retina Display in a glass and aluminum body that weighs 11 ounces.
MacBook Pro Retina
When Apple introduced the Retina Display for the first time on the iPhone 4, critics applauded it for unprecedented clarity. So the company did it again, this time with a 15-inch notebook that weighed lighter than ever. Months after its launch, the first MacBook Pro Retina model remains the sharpest notebook on the market with a maximum 2,880 x 1,800 resolution.
Until 1999, many computer monitors could best be described as utilitarian-looking. So when Apple revealed a striking 22-inch easel-type display encased in clear plastic, well, people noticed.
If the first iMac was all about evincing a feeling of user accessibility, the second-generation iMac, launched in 2002, was largely about designing around the computer’s new flat panel display. That meant a new stainless steel neck that pivoted and allowed several viewing angles.
Returning to a design that placed the computer hardware directly behind the screen, the white iMac G5 in 2004 was available in 17-inch and 20-inch versions. It was also the last iMac to use IBM’s PowerPC processors.
Apple had once tried to enter the tablet market with its failed Newton line, but with the first iPad, it nailed a design reminiscent of the iPhone, only of course, larger: a bright and responsive 9.7-inch glass touchscreen display and a gradually-sloped aluminum backing. Best of all, it weighed just 1.5 lbs.
Apple also has a knack for often designing and selling smaller versions of its successful products. In 2005, that meant releasing the pint-sized iPod nano, with a glass front and aluminum back. The third-generation nano (pictured), went all aluminum and was available in six colors.
Just because something’s aimed at the budget-minded doesn’t mean design has to suffer. The original Mac Mini in 2005 was hailed for its small size and simple lines.
A laptop so thin it fits in a manilla envelope? That was marketing message for the first-generation MacBook Air, which single-handedly made PC makers rush to make their own “ultrabook” versions.
Think of the iPod Touch as an iPhone without the phone, capable of music and video playback, using many of the same apps, and snapping photos. The most recent crop is even thinner than the iPhone 5 and available in five colors.
Apple’s PowerBook G4 wasn’t the company’s first portable computer — that title goes to the ill-fated Macintosh Portable in 1989 — but the 12-inch and 17-inch PowerBooks with PowerPC G4 processors in 2003 made waves for their sleek looks. Indeed, at 6.8 lbs., the 17-inch version was the lightest of its kind at the time.